rural_townPerhaps policymakers should consider allowing property owners to build their own connections to a service provider, suggested Harold Feld, senior vice president for Public Knowledge, at a tech policy event today. Potentially the property owner could even get some form of reimbursement for the connection, in a manner similar to how property owners that generate their own power are selling it to the grid. Feld’s suggestion was just one of several rural broadband deployment ideas floated by panelists at the event, which was organized by Next Century Cities, the American Action Forum and Public Knowledge.

Policymakers “should focus on interconnection,” rather than simply broadband network construction, Feld commented in support of his idea.

Brent Skorup, senior research fellow for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, suggested a somewhat similar idea — relaxing certain regulations to help spur fixed wireless deployments by, for example, allowing owners to put fixed wireless equipment on their property without paying fees.

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Rural Broadband Deployment Ideas
Several panelists suggested changes to the Universal Service Fund high-cost program, which helps fund rural broadband deployment – but each panelist had a different idea about the changes that should be made.

Jonathan Chambers, a partner with Conexon LLC – a consulting group that worked with rural electric co-operatives to win $186 million in broadband funding in the Connect America Fund auction – took aim at the FCC’s periodic increases in broadband speed targets. Instead, he said, the FCC should fund fiber-to-the-home, which he said would mean spending money once, rather than funding multiple incremental upgrades. The current approach, he said, is an example of “soft bigotry of reduced expectations” for rural America.

Skorup suggested that funding should focus on households rather than carriers and advocated a voucher system, arguing that it would help fund fixed wireless providers and other non-traditional funding recipients. He noted that 90% of the U.S. has access to 25/3 Mbps service, which raising the question of what to do about the other 10%. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, offered a rebuttal. “Vouchers don’t build a network,” she said.

Like Skorup, Feld said the USF should move away from funding carriers, but his idea was somewhat different. Federal funding, he said, should target infrastructure, not carriers. Once the network is built out, maintenance costs go down significantly, he said, arguing that most carriers should be able to cover costs after a network is built out.

The participants made their comments on a rural broadband panel that was one of several included in today’s event, titled “Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy,” which was also webcast.

Image courtesy of flickr user María de los Angeles Quiroz.

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